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Back to the future on the building front

A group of architects have taken to older construction techniques for the future of sustainable housing in the country. They meld techniques, modern science and natural materials for green constructions at ecologically sensitive spots.

Young architects from Pune — Dhruvang Hingmire, Priyanka Gunjikar, Rajlaxmi Teli, Riddhi Bora and others are building homes with bricks, mud and bamboo instead of steel and concrete. They use lime, a traditional and environment-friendly building material. It is almost carbon neutral, more durable, has anti-bacterial properties and is breathable, a healthier plastering solution for people and the planet.

The group of architects believe that construction techniques from years ago can be the future of sustainable housing in the country if they meld techniques, modern science and natural materials for perfect green constructions at ecologically sensitive spots.

While such eco-friendly sustainable structures with ample of ventilation are visible across Kerala due to Laurie Baker’s efforts, such constructions are now making in-roads around Pune. Baker employed traditional techniques that he learned in India alongside modern design principles to create masterpieces that have received recognition across the globe.

The Baker link is strong in the Pune architects’ group. His student Malaksingh Gill has taught Hingmire and Gunjikar and they knew they could not practice conventional architecture.

“We were Rachana Sansad’s Academy of Architecture in Mumbai and had a subject called ecology and architecture taught by Gill. We visited many of his sites during the course to see how the structure is made. We also participated in the construction. We wanted it and we went to work with Gill for three years before launching our own practice,” Hingmire said. The couple returned to Pune to set up ‘Building in Mud’, a firm that has now constructed several houses around Pune.

“Our first project came from the Paralikar family for a farmhouse at Bhor near Pune. They were in line with our ideology and had set a few conditions like use of natural and locallysourced material, construction of a dry toilet on the premises and utilizing the skills of local labour. We obtained most of the material from the site and used traditional techniques for the construction,” Hingmire said.

Baker’s words of wisdom ‘architecture is mostly common sense’, inspired Rajlaxmi Teli to take up sustainable construction and launch Tessera.

“Six factors define sustainability – cost, material, climate, design, structure and social impact. My constructions ensure that the embodied energy of the material used is low and there are passive cooling systems making it sustainable. In some projects, we have used only bricks instead of steel and cement. So many traditional construction techniques have been forgotten,” she explained.

After her first-hand experience at living in a bamboo house, Riddhi Bora decided to engage in construction using bamboo and mud. “I lived in a bamboo house for six months and I realized I was happy living in a space like that. At 6.30am the house would be bright and I woke up fresh. The structures that we live in do not allow light. The experience made me engage in such construction,” she added. Bora, who started her company, Prayog, last year, is trying to provide architecture students a hands-on experience in constructing with natural materials through workshops.

“People now consider constructing structures in natural material as they are aware of how much harm has been done to the environment. More old techniques and elements will come back as they are good for the environment. We are now trying to spread awareness about the benefits of lime plaster as against cement plaster,” Bora said.

Working with the locals and sourcing such ‘traditional’ material brought Hingmire and Gunjikar prospective clients. “While sourcing materials locally, we made contacts and got more clients. The sarpanch of Bhor village was a cement supplier. When we told him we were not using cement, he was intrigued. He saw our work and told us about his ancestral home which needed renovation. He wanted us to retain the original walls and work around the old structure. We did it,” Gunjikar said.

Teli said she too is working on upskilling of construction workers in these traditional techniques. “Over the last four years, my helper Amar Rathod has been trained and is now a skilled master mason for my projects,” she stated.

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